Health Encyclopedia

How to Use a Pacifier

Pacifiers help parents and infants get through periods of crying when the infant is either not hungry or too full to eat but still needs the comfort that sucking provides.

Pros and cons

Pacifiers, which have been used by parents for more than 1,000 years, have proponents and opponents.

Possible benefits of a pacifier:

  • Pacifies and comforts the infant

  • Helps a parent's frayed nerves

  • Produces an actual pain-relieving effect if the infant is hurt or uncomfortable

  • Is associated with shorter hospital stays and improved bottle-feeding in premature infants when they are tube-fed

  • Decreases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome; offer a nonbreastfed infant a pacifier during routine sleep and nap times, beginning at birth, and delay introducing a pacifier to breastfed infants until breastfeeding has been firmly established.

Possible drawbacks of a pacifier:

  • Affects the formation of the teeth, so that they don't meet properly, especially when used in children older than age 2

  • Potential breastfeeding difficulties if the infant is breastfed, especially if the pacifier is introduced before breastfeeding is well established

  • May increase incidence of ear infection (otitis media)

  • If a homemade pacifier is used, the risk increases for choking, ingesting materials, and contamination with bacteria, fungi, or toxic substances

Store display racks carry a bewildering selection of pacifiers. It may help to know that manufacturers say there are basically 2 types: orthodontic and nonorthodontic. An orthodontic design is meant to simulate a mother's nipple and to accommodate the baby's "tongue thrust" — the motion that strips milk from the mother's breast. The nipple tip is typically flatter and square-shaped. Nonorthodontic pacifiers are the older style, with the uniform bulb tip.

Materials

The vast majority of pacifiers are made either with latex, silicon rubber, or soft plastic. Silicon is probably preferable to other materials because its smoother surface harbors fewer microorganisms.

Which should you buy?

Let the baby decide. It may take several tries with various pacifiers to find the one your child prefers, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Simple rules

Here are some suggestions when considering pacifiers:

  • Make sure the pacifier is a 1-piece pacifier when possible.

  • Avoid pacifiers with built-in gadgets, moving parts, or liquid interiors.

  • Use pacifiers that have sealed rather than open bases.

  • Do not, under any circumstance, hang the pacifier on a string around the baby's neck.

  • Do not dip the pacifier in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sugary materials.

  • Clean the pacifier regularly. Boiling is recommended for pacifiers if the child is younger than 6 months. An automatic dishwasher will do an adequate job of cleaning for all ages.

  • Replace the pacifier if it becomes damaged, the plastic begins to crack, or the surface breaks down into small plaques or plates.

  • Wean the infant from the pacifier by age 6 months.